Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 1
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: January, 1938 Volume 1 Number 2, Pages 2–10
Valley Forge field trip itinerary - an interpretation
Editor's Note: This map was printed on the inside cover of the original publication.
We offer here rather new kind of history writing and history study. The automobile has given the average citizen a new means for history study. Three ways to study history are as follows. First the textbook -- good but a little dry except to the ardent student. Second, the study of general references and source materials -- very interesting to the student of history -- but lacks appeal to the majority. Third the field trip--automobile or hiking, or better still, a combination of the two. Here we have the outdoors -- the scene upon which the events were enacted. We locate ourselves on the map and on the ground and then read about what occurred on the spot. The setting adds zest and inspiration. That is the kind of lesson this is. It is the kind any American citizen enjoys. (Walt Whitman, a great interpreter of the American spirit, was accustomed to read his poems outdoors to test their merit.)
This field trip is the lesson in United States History on Valley Forge given by the writer at Tredyffrin-Easttown Joint High School. For years, on glorious October days, he taught about Valley Forge in a warm classroom. About five years ago it dawned upon him that at his doorstep lay a fine laboratory for the study of Valley Forge--the field itself. Since then he has taken his classes in busses to the observatory, and from there hiked over the field as follows. "Come on along."
This trip can be taken by automobile or it can be made a hike. It should start at No. 1 (on guide map) THE OBSERVATORY. But if one does not care for the strenuous seventy-five foot climb up the tower, he may read No. 1, study the map, and then begin his trip at No. 2, Fort Washington.
NO. 1 - OBSERVATORY
NOW having climbed to the platform of the observatory, let us look about and get a general idea of Valley Forge and the relation of its location to the whole field of maneuvers of the Revolutionary armies around Philadelphia. Look at the circular disc in the center of the platform -- arrow and milage indicate the location of important points related to Valley Forge.
1. Philadelphia--18 miles. There the British army 20,000 strong was located, behind fortifications.
2. Reading--in the opposite direction up the river. That city was Washington's great supply depot--grain, clothing, powder--teams were plentiful in the vicinity of Reading. Notice that Washington at Valley Forge is between the British and the American supply area, and on the main highway (river and roads parallel) between the two cities.
2A. Warwick--The center of the Pennsylvania iron manufacturing area upon which Washington depended for cannon, shot and small arms, and their repair.
3. Allentown--? miles away to the north. Another base of American supply. There lay young Lafayette during the first weeks of this encampment, recovering from his wound received at Brandywine.
4. Wilmington--where the right wing of the American army spent the winter. The main part of the army was at Valley Forge--but a cordon of light troops, militia and cavalry surrounded the British army in Philadelphia from Wilmington on the south to the vicinity of Bristol on the north. These troops were active in preventing the British from getting supplies. The New Jersey Militia, occasionally augmented by some Continentals from Valley Forge preformed a like office on the other side of the Delaware. Butter sold for two dollars a pound in Philadelphia that winter. Probably the horses in the city suffered severely for want of hay.
5. Hudson River--? miles--A line from the vicinity of Valley Forge to West Point on the Hudson formed the front line of Washington's strategic quadrilateral. If he remained in control of this line Washington maintained that he could eventually win the war. Notice that the cities of New York and Philadelphia are not included. To the north this quadrilateral opened to the ports of New England where supplies from abroad came in. On the southwest it opened into the great granary of the Shenandoah Valley.
Now let us look at the immediate foreground--see glimpses of the river which formed the northern boundary of the camp. See the deep ravine at the back of the camp (west) through which the Valley Creek flows. Now eastward see the drill field sloping away toward the Chapel. And now, notice the line of low hills bounding the third side of the camp. Wayne's statue and the Arch are on this line. Those hills form the outer line of defences of the camp.
Now, go down the steps and then follow the drive down the hill. Stop where the drive from the observatory ends in a dead end in the inner line drive, the inner line of entrenchments lies directly before you. Take the turn to the right, drive slowly--observe the line of entrenchments continuing along the left side of the road. At the place where the drive makes a sharp U turn, above the Valley Creek, a section of the entrenchment is in fairly good state of repair, giving some idea of its strength. As you go on down observe on the left the many fine hemlock trees. The hemlock is the Pennsylvania State tree. Proceeding along the drive you come out of the woods above
NO. 2 - FORT WASHINGTON
Now take your map (page 2) and orient yourself. This is a strong point advanced at the right end of the inner line of defences. Looking southeast as you stand above the fort notice the outer line at the Wayne statue. Now walk down below the fort. Look toward the river. Almost in line with the red brick building in the distance you see about a mile away, is Fort Huntingdon, similar to Fort Washington. It is at the other end of the inner line of defences. Along the face of these two hills, following the inner line drive, lies the inner line of entrenchments.
NO. 2A - KNOX'S ARTILLERY PARK
Cannon in the foreground. This is the site of Knox's brigade of artillery, (I think this was the general army artillery, and that each brigade had brigade artillery). I haven't found much as yet about the Continental Artillery. It would make an interesting study. I think it was probably much more effective than we suppose.
Now follow the arrows along the drive about two hundred yards. Now turn and looking back survey the inner lines as they lie along the face of the two hills, flanked by Fort Washington and Fort Huntingdon. Observe how strong the position is. Even if the front lines had been carried by an attack, the defenders falling back to the second line would have been in an impregnable fortress. The rear was safe, resting on a deep gorge that one regiment and a battery could have defended against an army. The front would have looked wonderfully like a Bunker Hill to General Howe. General Howe was very cautious after that famous battle. The strength of the inner lines can be understood more readily if the student has visited the field of the Whitemarsh encampment of the American army, November 2nd to December 9th, 1777.* There Washington held a position on the hills, not nearly so strong as Valley Forge. The British army marched out of Philadelphia, as they boasted
"To drive Washington's Army back to the mountains".
For a week's time they maneuvered in front of Washington's position, and after some light skirmishing, decided not to attack him but turned about and marched back to Philadelphia to be greeted by the derisive shouts of the populace. Recently a retired U. S. Army officer visited Valley Forge for the first time in his life. After studying the field for a while, he said in his conversation with one of the park guards,
"Most decidedly the thing that impresses me most is the military strength of the position here".
* (see map page 4).
On the 19th of December the Army came in here from Gulph Mills where they had been a short time after the Whitemarsh Encampment, where had begun the severe suffering that was to characterize the first months at Valley Forge.
The suffering caused by shortage of food and clothing at Whitemarsh and Valley Forge need not have been. It was due to a breakdown in the quartermaster department, rather than a shortage in the vicinity. Nearby were the rich granaries of Lancaster County and the cloth centers of Reading and Allentown. The quartermasters appointed by Congress during this period were incapable. I have read officers' letters stating that as they rode from York to Valley Forge, they saw barrels of shoes and other provisions perishing at cross roads where farmers had dumped them because they were not paid to team them further. Had the quartermaster department provided proper transportation, the suffering for want of food and clothing could have been greatly reduced at Valley Forge. Why should an army of from 12,000 to 16,000 men suffer from want in the rich province of Pennsylvania?
On March 2, 1778, General Greene, after being strongly urged by Washington, reluctantly accepted the post of quartermaster general.
Two years later Washington wrote to Greene as follows.
"When you were prevailed upon to take the office in March, 1778, it was in great disorder and confusion, and, by extraordinary exertions, you so arranged it as to enable the army to take the field the moment it was necessary, and to move with rapidity after the enemy when they left Philadelphia."
Greene established a chain of magazines or depots of supplies stretching from the head of Elk through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to the Hudson containing in all eight hundred and forty thousand bushels of grain.
NO. 3 - MEET MAJOR-GENERAL BARON VON STEUBEN
Continuing our walk along the outer drive at the foot of Fort Washington. After proceeding about two hundred yards we come to a bronze statue on our left hand. It is the statue of Von Steuben, the drill master of Valley Forge. Baron Von Steuben was a Prussian soldier who had learned his trade under the greatest general of the times, Frederick the Great of Prussia. Von Steuben had attained high rank in the Prussian army. Through heredity he was possessed of lands and titles in Prussia. He wore an insignia of high rank in the church. He left all that and journeyed to America landing at Boston.
In the preceding year, 1776, King George of England had hired mercenary troops from the ruler of Hesse. Hesse was a German nation similar to Prussia. To get his troops to a seaport the King of Hesse asked permission of Frederick to pass over his lands, a short cut to the sea, but Frederick sympathized with the Americans and refused. Furthermore, Frederick was a great admirer of Washington's. He praised highly Washington's conduct of the New Jersey campaign of 1776, so Frederick was very popular in America. Many inns were named for him. As Von Steuben traveled from Boston to Valley Forge by sleigh in the winter of 1777-1778, it is said that he was cheered to see the likeness of his king look down upon him at many inns.
Von Steuben offered his services to Congress. That body sent him on to Washington. He was made inspector general of the army. He reorganized the army. On the open plain between the outer and inner lines he drilled the troops. He didn't just tell them how to do it, he took a musket in his hands and showed them, and he drove his lessons home with strings of stout German oaths, much to the delight of the soldiers with whom he soon became popular. He lived in a log cabin, not one of the adjacent snug farmhouses. He had one orderly who looked after his equipment. He rose each morning at four o'clock was shaved and had his queue plaited for the day and prepared the drill orders for the day. He developed a new system of infantry fighting. Recognizing the value of the skirmish type of fighting developed in Indian warfare, he combined that with the new Prussian system. In a way it survives in our infantry manuals today. The irregular infantry squad rush of today is a part of it.
Look at the bronze tablet on the stone base of the monument. It is well worth your study. See Von Steuben, musket in hand, his cloak thrown off and held by his orderly. Standing by see General Washington and his staff and other officers intently watching the instruction.
Von Steuben turned an army of militia into an army of skilled soldiers. The army that marched out of Valley Forge on June 18, 1778 was never to know again defeat. The last engagement of the war, Eutah Springs, was to see these men steadily driving before them superior numbers of British regulars with the English soldiers own favorite weapon--the bayonet.
These words have been reputed to Von Steuben, in replying to a friend:
YOU ASK ME WHY I LEFT MY HOME, MY HONORS, MY PROPERTY IN GERMANY TO COME TO THIS BLEAK HILLSIDE TO DRILL THESE RAW TROOPS. I'LL TELL YOU, MY FRIEND, IN EUROPE I LOOKED ABOUT AND SAW ON ALL SIDES MANKIND CRUSHED UNDER THE HEEL OF MONARCHY AND TYRANNY. IN ONLY ONE PLACE IN THE WORLD DID I THINK I SAW THE SPARK OF LIBERTY GLOWING--AMERICA. I GAME OVER TO HELP FAN IT INTO FLAME.
NO. 4 - HOSPITAL
Now pass by the monument and take the foot path directly back of it through the bushes. Follow it along until you come to the brigade field hospital. In such a rough hospital the slightly ill men received treatment. The more severe cases were sent to the hospitals, which were usually church buildings, north and west of the camp over an area of several miles.
NO. 10 - THE ARCH
There on the rising foreground stands The Arch. It is placed in the most commanding position in the park. All roads lead to it. It is the center and properly so. Not a finer view of it can be had than that from the corner of the woods here where we are standing. Let us now walk across the field, observing it as we go. (If you are in a car park it here beside the woods and take this short hike--you will be well repaid). As we move forward gazing at the Arch, we realize that it is a work of art.
STRENGTH is a characteristic. How very strong it stands. We know that mankind from the time of the dim ages of the past, has put his confidence in the strength of the arch.
UNITY: Each stone of the arch is placed to do its part. Without any one the arch would crumble. All the stones supporting together, it stands in its
BEAUTY: For all its strength and solidity--we see beauty--marked outstanding beauty; in the true proportions of all the parts.
Yes, it is a thing of strength, unity and beauty. It is a work of art truly. For we look at it the first time and enjoy it. On the second visit we like it more. On the hundredth visit we still draw such inspiration from it. Each time we gaze upon it anew, we appreciate it more fully.
Now let us walk on up to the arch. Let us stand on the grass covered area at the south front and look. A centrally placed inscription draws the eye --
"Naked and starving, as they are, we cannot sufficiently admire, the incomparable courage and fidelity of the soldiery."
Below, moving around the arch we read these words taken from The Book--
"They shall hunger no more neither shall they thirst any more."
Immortality of Patriots --
"I bear you on eagles wings and brought you unto Myself".
But why this Arch? And why here? Rome built great arches of Victory like this for returning victorious generals. But no battle was fought here. At Yorktown the crowning victory of the Revolution was won. At Yorktown today stands a tall marble shaft in commemoration. Why was not the Arch of Victory placed there rather than here at Valley Forge? It is properly placed here because the greatest victory of the war was won here. Not a victory of arms. No. But far greater, far more important. The spiritual victory of the war was won here. Washington, Wayne and their fellow soldiers here faced the aftermath of defeat, faced disordered commissary to the point of starvation and nakedness, faced cold, faced discouragement, faced even treason within their ranks. Did they weaken? They, under the leadership of Von Steuben, drilled an army of militia into a firm fighting and marching unit; they reorganized the commissary under General Greene until the army was well clothed and equipped. Washington, Wayne, and their comrades in arms here overcame their difficulties, surmounted their obstacles--far from being cast down--built for victory; to which from this point in the war they slowly but surely marched. Far-sighted men, here they won a great spiritual victory. Here they visualized Yorktown. So the Arch is on the site of the greatest victory--the Spiritual Victory of the Revolutionary War.
What were the names of those men of great spirit? Are their names chiseled into the stone of the Arch, as the names of the men of the Army of the Potomac, are chiseled into the great monument at Gettysburg? No! The men of the Army of the Potomac PRESERVED our Union. Their names are justly carved in stone. But the men who suffered here should also have their names imperishably recorded. They created the new nation. Let us pray that some historian will search out the names and that they will be fittingly recorded, in view of all in some appropriate manner on this field.
On an Inner wall of the Arch the names of the general officers are recorded.
On the opposite wall is an extract from Henry Armitt Brown's Valley Forge Centennial Oration:
AND HERE IN THIS PLACE OF SACRIFICE IN THIS VALE OF HUMILIATION IN THIS VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF THAT DEATH OUT OF WHICH THE LIFE OF AMERICA ROSE REGENERATED AND FREE LET US BELIEVE WITH AN ABIDING FAITH THAT TO THEM UNION WILL BE AS DEAR AND LIBERTY AS SWEET AND PROGRESS AS GLORIOUS AS THEY WERE TO OUR FATHERS AND ARE TO YOU AND ME AND THAT THE INSTITUTIONS THAT HAVE MADE US HAPPY PRESERVED BY THE VIRTUE OF OUR CHILDREN SHALL BLESS THE REMOTEST GENERATION OF THE TIME TO COME
(completed) This does not appear on the wall. It is the closing line of the oration.
"AND UNTO HIM, WHO HOLDS IN THE HOLLOW OF HIS HAND THE FATE OF NATIONS, AND YET MARKS THE SPARROWS FALL, LET US LIFT UP OUR HEARTS THIS DAY, AND INTO HIS ETERNAL CARE COMMEND OURSELVES, OUR CHILDREN, AND OUR COUNTRY."
Now let us stand on the western side of the arch and look once more to the west at the inner lines. How strong the position looks from here! Now let us notice another feature about the inner lines. Notice that they form a V with the point of the V extending upward and inward between the two hills. This formed a "Trap" feature of the defences. Imagine an attacking party breaking through the outer lines at the point where we are standing. Notice the nature of the parade ground before us. Its slopes would roll the attack to gather and mass it into the V. There it would face many obstructions. The ground before and in the V was strewn with "burs". They were irons with three six inch sharp points, so constructed that however they fell, one point projected upward. They were particularly effective against cavalry. (The barbed wire of the time.) Before the entrenchments on the slopes of the V trees had been felled outward, with branches trimmed to present a forest of sharp points to the attackers. Once in the V attackers would be subject to enfilading fire, both musketry and artillery, from both sides as well as the fire from the front. The forts would have played a strong enfilading fire. Also the Star Redoubt (which we will see later) would have been very effective. Note that after we finish our trip at the Star Redoubt.
Now we can take two routes on leaving the monument. If you are in a car travel along the outer line drive following the arrows--pause to note the markers. Circle around and park in front of the Chapel and walk down to the Waterman Monument.
If you are hiking, cut directly across the field from the Arch to the Waterman Monument (there is a path through the grove before you).
NO. 11A - WATERMAN MONUMENT
This monument marks the grave of the highest ranking officer that died at Valley Forge.
The graves of many other soldiers dot the field. All the locations of burial grounds are not known or marked. You have noticed stones to the memory of unknown soldiers at many points on the field. There are practically no records of the burials. Over the known sites flags are kept waving. We pause to salute them!
"For hastening to set a crown of freedom On this new land, They lie possessed of praise That grows not old."
NO. 11 - THE CHAPEL
This splendid edifice, the result of the enthusiasm and love of the Rev. and his associates, is worthy of a complete study in itself. We will not attempt to describe it here or to direct the tourist through it. The Chapel and its museum, Varnum's quarters building and the Washington headquarters building and its museum, will be the subject of an itinerary that will appear in a later issue of this quarterly. Today we are on a field trip. Let us stay outdoors today. Let us go westward up the road to the
NO. 12 - THE STAR REDOUBT
Standing on this high ground beside the Star Redoubt, look to the south across the drill field. Imagine to yourself the part this fort could have played in repulsing an attack that had broken through the front lines and was advancing toward the inner line, into what we have pleased to call "the trap".
Note Fort Huntingdon at the end of the inner line of entrenchments. It is similar to Fort Washington on the other end.
But that was not the main purpose of this redoubt. Walk around to the north side. At the foot of the steep hill in front of you lies the river. It is clearly visible in the winter.
NO. 12A - SULLIVAN'S BRIDGE
Across the river at this point was built, during the encampment, under the supervision of General Sullivan, a bridge, and named for him--Sullivan's Bridge. It was built on piles. At the middle of each section, carved into the wood were the names of the generals of the American Army. In the middle of the bridge, General Washington's. Perhaps the builders thought that the bridge would stand for many years, a memorial of the encampment. The Star Redoubt protects this bridge.
The purpose of this bridge was many fold. It facilitated the communications with West Point. It facilitated bringing in supplies from the north. It could have been used as a line of retreat. It facilitated protection of the supply area toward Heading and Allentown.
It was used by the American Army in its rapid march beginning June 18, 1778 to head off the English army on its retreat from Philadelphia to New York. As you stand here visualize the last grand scene at Valley Forge. A strong, well-trained, well-provisioned array lead (sic) by, as an English historian has said,
"the noblest figure that ever stood in the forefront of a nation's life".
Visualize them crossing the bridge and marching away into the distance before you, waving over them their new flag, with the blue field with thirteen stars in a circle, similar to the one flying the redoubt beside you, as they march out of sight across the hills. They march to victory--they march to found a new nation.
"A dazzling memory revive: Refresh the faded tints. Recut the aged prints, And write my old adventures with the pen Which on the first day drew. Upon the tablets blue, The dancing Pleiades and eternal men."
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